BY DUANE W. GANG, JEFF HORSEMAN
AND JOHN F. HILLSTAFF WRITERS
Published: 07 October 2011 12:34 PM
Calling it a “big-money business,” California’s four U.S. attorneys announced a major crackdown Friday targeting the sale, cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana — including operations in Wildomar.
The federal prosecutors said the state’s medical marijuana laws never were intended to shield large-scale growing operations and retail stores that sell the drug.
The U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles filed a civil forfeiture lawsuit against the property owners of the Wildomar Patients Compassionate Group. In addition, the office sent letters to all known marijuana stores in Wildomar, Murrieta and Temecula warning that their operations are in violation of federal law. Similar letters went out to operators in Upland, Montclair and Chino in San Bernardino County.
The letters went to the owners of the buildings and stores themselves, and warned that they have two weeks to “take the necessary steps to discontinue the sale and/or distribution of marijuana.”
“It is important to note that for-profit, commercial marijuana operations are illegal not only under federal law, but also under California law,” U.S. Attorney André Birotte Jr., who has jurisdiction for the Inland region, said at a Sacramento news conference.
“While California law permits collective cultivation of marijuana in limited circumstances, it does not allow commercial distribution through the storefront model we see across California,” he said.
Although California voters in 1996 legalized marijuana for medical uses, growing and using the drug has long been illegal under federal law.
The moves by federal authorities this week include criminal and civil actions against medical marijuana operations and the property owners who rent to them. Federal authorities are seeking to seize property and shut down their stores.
Prosecutors said they are working with the Internal Revenue Service to seize bank accounts with rent money from medical marijuana stores.
Local officials throughout the region, many of whom sought federal assistance, hailed the federal government’s decision to step into the long-running debate over whether to allow the sale of marijuana.
“It’s about time the federal government takes action,” Temecula Mayor Ron Roberts said. “It’s a federal law. Certainly I’m not going to say, ‘Don’t come in.’”
The city of Wildomar has zoning laws prohibiting marijuana dispensaries and has spent more than $50,000 trying to close down the Wildomar Patients Compassionate Group.
Wildomar Mayor Marsha Swanson also welcomed the federal government’s involvement.
“That’s money in our pocket that we don’t have,” she said of the money the city has spent so far.
But medical marijuana activists blasted the announcement by the four U.S. attorneys, particularly at a time when large numbers of Californians support the state’s medical marijuana laws.
Inland medical marijuana activist Lanny Swerdlow said Friday’s announcement was an effort by the Obama administration to pander to law enforcement officials who oppose medical marijuana because they believe it would lead to full legalization.
Crackdown on medical marijuana
“In exchange for their endorsement in 2012, Barack Obama has unleashed the Department of Justice attack dogs on medical marijuana patients and providers,” Swerdlow said.
Robin Sax, an attorney for Cooperative Patients’ Services of Temecula, said the business should not be penalized for following the exact letter of California’s laws. It’s unclear whether the cooperative will receive a warning letter.
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